K's brother is in the the intensive care unit in West Virginia. We're flying out tonight to be there with him. Please pray for him. God'll know who you're talking about and what can be done. Thanks.
Review Mockerybird using Alexa's new web search. They use Google search results but also have screenshots for some of the results. Some Alexa people came in to
Roman and Jess
Roman stood up, and quickly opened the door. His mind was dark and full of shapeless forms when his eyes connected with Jess's. Her face belonged to a putti, with soft white cheeks splotched with red patches and wide watery eyes. He had never seen her more beautiful. He stepped outside with her and tried to close the door behind him. He had to pull the door with his weight to get it to shut the last inch, and when it did, it caused a loud rattling thump through the porch.
His body reacted strongly to the sound, sending dull sparks out to his limbs as if an old thin cord had been yanked, trying to start a rusty motor in his gut. He felt a new quality of air filling his lungs, crisper, and several degrees cooler in temperature. Jess, responding to Roman's relaxed expression, became more reassured, and took his hand and swung it up a little, then back. She turned around and walked a few steps down, kicking something off the step that bounced down into the street, clinking a single note repeatedly. Roman looked over her shoulder, to her right, and saw the white walk signal and red stop light. The words "Watch out," echoed dully for a few seconds on Roman's tongue, swaying like an empty swing, words as sounds, unattached to their meaning. Beyond the white light was a row of rooftops over the market, and past that a patch of grass, and past that a few metal towers, a flagpole, and then there was the body of water known as the Sound. The fact that he could currently see over the rooftops and past the towers all the way to the land on the other side of the Sound seemed like a trick of the light on a thirsty mind, but it pulled his defensive emotions forward and opened him up: he was ready to hear what Jess had come to say.
They sat on the warm wooden steps, his feet reaching two steps down, her feet crossed and folded at a sharper angle, resting only one step below. She just said it. He had already known it, but with the words said aloud he felt as if a strong wind kicked under him and picked him up like a kite. He was displaced, both floating and watching himself from way back and way up, and also there on the ground, holding Jess's hand. The Roman he was before, floating, watching, and the Roman he was now, older, fatherly, sitting, comforting, praying, twitching slightly in his new body. She was crying, wrapping everything in a hundred clauses, qualifying everything with ifs and maybes, assuming nothing from him, and he stopped with, "It's mine too, it's mine." He talked on, not knowing what he was saying, just quick words that would lift her up, strings of words, words that challenged pre-conceived notions of success and greatness, in favor of the true core of happiness, words like "health," "stability," "self-sufficiency," and "love," mixed and matched, different combinations, some more powerful than others, watching her slip back down, lifting her up with more, thicker rope, stronger tugs, everything he had, every promise he could make, it was all possible, there was nothing he wouldn't do to bring her back, to see her rest on a plateau of calm stability, and in the process he too was reassured, brought back down into the present moment, on the wooden steps, breathing slightly heavily. "Isn't it better to be with the one you love, and to have nothing else, than to have everything except for the one you love?" Given unlimited choices, Roman found the hidden key to greatness: a simple life, with love, health, a family to support and nourish.
The door behind them opened with a grunt and Francie hopped out, arms flapping as she ran down the steps and into the street. Skip and Tom followed after her, Tom looking back, apologizing with hands dipping as if in prayer. Then they were gone around the corner.
Jess turned around, with Roman, and they looked though the open door and into the house. The wooden floor viewed at this angle looked ominous, two couches shrinking in size on the small horizon, and at the end a small arching doorway that lead to the kitchen, and next to that a table where Claire was sitting, tiny, reading the paper. Roman said, "I mean it," or tried to, but all of a sudden a flash of doubt slammed a few doors shut in his mind, and he said instead, "Jude's moving in today."
Jess's short curly blond hair stuck to her forehead and cheek, where tears had been. "Which one is he?"
He wished, harshly, that she paid more attention to some things. He looked around absently, trying to find something to light his attention on, if only for a few seconds while he let this reaction turn. "Jude, remember?" She nodded, affirmatively, yes,
The Checks are Good
Is it Jess? Is it Francie? thought Roman and Claire, respectively. Before she entered, Claire knew it was Francie from the skinny shadow that separated itself from the door's shadow, an elongated neck from which long shoulders and elbows grew. Francie threw open the door which swung into Roman's leg, and jumped over the threshold, shaking blue envelopes over her head wildly, shaking the blue right out of them, until they were a starchy white, in the light, proclaiming, "The checks are good!"
Francie stopped, still in a triumphant pose, to look at Tom, then Skip, then Claire. Claire conveyed a mistrust on her eyebrows similar to what she'd attribute to a convenience store thief, and Francie, communication at last! God bless her, without missing a beat, said, "And who is this mystery man?" Wink, wink.
Roman moved his foot with delayed reaction from the door's path. Claire watched Roman closely and curiously as she listened to Skip's quavering, innocent voice, "Meet Tom Spils, writer extraordinaire, fire-starter, a true revolutionary at heart. Tom, this is Francie, Miss America Two Thousand." Roman had fallen from the room's favor, falling asleep like this, Claire could tell by the way eyes glanced empty of sympathy in his direction, but she had been invigorated by the close talk they'd had earlier, and was willing to hear more when he woke up. Let him rest.
"Am not!" declared Francie, apparently delighted. Claire, pivoting her attention towards the light, was waiting for a sign that Francie wasn't buying this, it could be a quick glance, a clenched fist, something intentional, anything other than simple pure delight at the obvious compliments. Francie was wearing a red and yellow summer dress, and sandals, but the bright colors made her and Skip stand out among the rest as brighter, clearer, more substantial bodies. Claire's blue shirt and tan shorts, she felt, a little self-conscious, relegated her to the role of listener and provider: the invisible hostess and organizer.
"Nice to meet you, Tom."
"The pleasure's all mine." And it was. Tom was all charm. The kind of charm that won you the high school sweetheart-after she'd had three kids, two marriages, a disfiguring accident, and the strength to let go of society's idea of the slim pretty princess so that she could live with being a hundred pounds overweight, and a mean drunk. But Claire found a simple innocent goodness in that too.
"Are you guys drunk? Claire, have these guys started drinking without us?"
"Don't ask me, they arrived this way. It's 11."
"We can't just let them go on like this by themselves. Bring us out some wine, Claire, could you? A white wine. No, a red wine."
"Are you sure?"
"It's payday. We can celebrate."
Claire walked back into the kitchen and as she gathered materials from the dishwasher, refrigerator, and cupboard, she heard Skip relate his plan to Francie.
"Here we are," she said a minute later, walking out slowly with a tray on which were five glasses and two bottles of champagne, focusing her attention on the swishing liquid and the bottoms of the glasses, and planning her steps accordingly. She saw the lamp on the table, precariously close to the edge, and gave it wide clearance.
"Claire, have you heard their plan? Isn't your friend moving in today?" Francie grabbed two glasses with one hand, and a bottle with the other. "Roman, you want any sham-pag-nay?" Roman nodded no thanks, with his eyes closed.
"That's what I told them." As she held out the tray to Skip and Tom, Claire looked back at Francie, and got the reassurance she had been looking for earlier, in the form of a puckered face directed at her as Francie took her first sip.
"Tom needs to live here, it's the only way to get material for his story."
"What story?" Francie looked over her glass, which she held with both hands, stained pink from the wine through the glass.
"The story about this house. About Mrs. Remington, and her creative and social vision," said Skip. Tom continued, "If I can learn more about what you're being paid to do, how that has changed your life, what you plan on doing with the money, what the whole deal is with the house chores, et cetera, and I write about it in an honest an forthcoming manner to be published in the Bystander, I really think we can spread the news, get other rich ladies with money laying about to help artists and writers and doers and makers all over the world. This is a utopia she's created, a heaven on earth, as you probably realize, where the makers are allowed to make, and the providers are allowed to provide, and lion sits with lamb, and people need to know. You think?" If this would be the tone of the story, a wishy-washy land, zig-zagging with symbolism and religious icons, she would have to kill this man.
"They don't need to know." Francie finished her drink. "If they knew what is here, it would all be ruined, destroyed before it even had a chance to be born. The press would find out, everyone would start applying, competing, fighting, and our little dreamland would come to an end. It's not the right time. It's not that simple. Tom, you cannot write this story."
"He must write this story."
"No, he can't write this story! That's that. Not until we've had a chance to do it for ourselves, to see if it works. Where does this desire come from? We don't need the media and everyone else watching us right now, it's fragile enough as it is."
"Francie, that's adorable. Tom will write this story." Skip was looking at her, with his jaw jutting forward, from the couch, gut hanging out more visibly than before, glass hanging limply from his fleshy fingers, and a sinister expression on his face, one of exhaustion and triumph, of confidence beyond measure. "And he will live here, in this house, with us." His punctuation dared interrogation.
Claire looked up from the rubber band she was twisting around her fingers, at Francie, and knew that they both knew exactly what he was thinking. Francie poured herself another glass, and offered the bottle to Claire. She denied it gently with a frown and a wave, then changed her mind and grabbed it. She spilled some of the red liquid on the wood floor, and let it soak in since she didn't have anything to wipe it up with. Claire looked at Roman, with a motherly expression. His brow was furrowed. She knew he wasn't asleep.
"Skip, this isn't quite..." Tom smiled at Francie, embarrassed. As if this would possibly complicate the romance that had already written itself with hardly any effort in Tom's writerly mind: the plot with no obstacles, no antagonist, just two protagonists in love.
Skip saw this too. "Shut up, Tom. You're trashed. We talked about this all last night and we know this is the right thing. Jude can still move in, that's no problem. We're all getting paid to do nothing here, and we're getting paid much more than we need or deserve. We'll just skim a little off our paychecks and slide it on over to you. In return, Tom, why don't you put off writing the story for a bit. How does that sound?" He looked at them expectantly, his face red and sweaty, the sun creating a line across the bridge of his nose.
Claire saw Francie lean back, and her hands brushed the white envelopes that were stacked behind her. Francie was looking at Tom, smiling. She said, "How about a deal. I'll split my check fifty/fifty with Tom, no, seventy-five/twenty-five, he gets the seventy-five. This way, Tom gets his money without making everyone else resent him for taking their money. Actually, they don't even have to know if you don't want them to. And I won't mind, because what I plan on doing doesn't really take much money." A shadow slid to a corner of the room. Jess's face was pulled into the window next to the door, covered in tears. "We'll talk about this later." Tom nodded eagerly, looking sorry. Skip stood up and slapped his shoulder proudly. Claire, displaying no reaction outwardly, but suddenly unsure about her friendships, crawled over to Roman and shook his shoulder, and
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